The Story Behind the Story: “Gail”

Gail was originally a piece I submitted for a writing exercise in a workshop I attended late last year. The class was asked to describe a fictional character’s day in less than 1,000 words. The exercise was supposed to ape a regular column in The Observer, in which someone from a different profession each week will dispassionately bullet-point their day. Often their job is very remarkable or dangerous, like a paramedic or fireman or hospice nurse, so there’s a sort of implied worthiness to the article.

I only discovered this after I submitted my piece because I’ve never actually read the column. I wrote Gail as a piece of flash fiction, as opposed to in the style of the original column, which the rest of my class did. Regardless, I liked the story and scatter-shot it out into the internet, hoping someone else would like it too. 

Gail came about because I really wanted to take a stab at writing a female character. Most of my characters have been adolescent boys so far so it felt time for a change. I wanted Gail to be essentially good, but blinkered in some ways by her upbringing and the oppressive circumstances of her home life, which I hope helps to prevent her from coming across as too saintly.

It’s important that I like my characters. I’ve written stories with unlikable protagonists and I’ve found myself leaning too heavily into my disdain for them, rendering them monstrous. Gail, I think, would have very different political and cultural opinions to me, but were I to meet her we’d probably get on okay. 

Bobby MacPherson

About Bobby MacPherson

Bobby is a graduate of the University of Manchester's creative writing MA. When not writing he works as a tutor and as the drummer of London-based indie rock band Brunch. His work has been published in the University of Newcastle's Material Magazine, University of Queen's The Lamp and Ambit. Bobby doesn't have twitter. He doesn't really know how it works.